Program #0392 for Wednesday, October 10, 2012: Ryan Verret on Assisted Suicide and End of Life Issues

October 10, 2012

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Ryan Verret on Assisted Suicide and End of Life Issues

Ryan Verret on Assisted Suicide and End of Life Issues

Summary of today’s show: Massachusetts’ impending vote on physician-assisted suicide has national implications and that’s what has brought Ryan Verret from Louisiana Right to Life to the Commonwealth. Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams talk to Ryan about his background in healthcare and medical ethics; concerns about recent healthcare legislation; and the awful message that legalizing assisted suicide sends to those who are at their most vulnerable, scared, and depressed moment.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams

Today’s guest(s): Ryan Verret of Louisiana Right to Life

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Ryan Verret on Assisted Suicide and End of Life Issues

1st segment: Scot welcomed everyone to the show. He said the new media team at the Archdiocese just completed a livestream of a workshop on physician-assisted suicide and then rushed to get all the equipment set up back in the studio. Fr. Matt then talked about a recent visit to St. Anthony’s in Lowell in which they had a prayer service like LIFT, which includes contemporary worship music and prayer. He said they do a “LIFT on the road” with the whole musical band and everyone involved several times per year. This event was a smaller experience with just Fr. Matt and one musician.

Scot said also last Friday in St. Mary’s in Chelmsford, they prayed for the intention of Catholic media in Boston for the Year of Faith during their monthly all-night Eucharistic Adoration.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Matt welcomed Ryan Verret to the show. Ryan is in the area to give some talks and do some interviews. He was born in Louisiana and grew up there. Scot noted that Ryan attended seminary with Fr. Matt for a couple of years.

Scot asked Ryan about the Catholic roots in Louisiana. Ryan said his family was Acadian, descended from those expelled from Nova Scotia by the British in the 1700s. They settled in Louisiana. He noted that Catholicism is strong in the region. He noted that his parish has had perpetual adoration around the clock since 1887. There is a high concentration of adoration chapels in the region.

Ryan said coming to Massachusetts for seminary was a culture shock. Coming from a rural background into an urban area was very different. He discerned in the seminary that he wasn’t called to the priesthood. He went to Washington, DC, and attended the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. He did an internship with the Missionaries of Charity at an AIDS hospice. While he was there, he met his wife, Mary Rose, a graduate of Christendom College. They have two children, a 3-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy. As a couple they teach natural family planning to many other couples.

Scot asked about their devotion to St. Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie Martin. He said it started when Pope John Paul beatified them and set them on the path to eventually being the first canonized couple. Ryan said he and his wife felt called that their home should be a missionary outpost of their parish and they see Louis and Zelie as examples for creating that domestic church. Ryan said they had chosen the name Zelie for their daughter (it comes from the French Azelie, which is the name for azaleas.) A few weeks before the due date, his wife developed pre-eclampsia and she had an emergency c-section. Fr. Matt performed the baptism and brought with him holy cards from when he visited Lisieux. They found out that their daughters’ birthday on December 23 turned out to be Zelie Martin’s birthday.

Their son is named for Brother Andre, St. Andre Bessette. Ryan said he’s always been devoted to St. Joseph and Brother Andre served in the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal and who had a similar strong connection to the saint. Scot said the 5-hour car ride to Montreal to visit the Oratory and other beautiful churches there is a wonderful family pilgrimage. Fr. Matt said St. Andre is buried there and you can pray before the relic of his heart. He noted that Brother Andre was the doorkeeper and every person who came through the doors was loved and welcomed by him. He received each person as a unique and unrepeatable gift. He often prayed with and applied holy oil to people with ailments who were healed through the intercession of St. Joseph. Ryan said many people in Louisiana keep “St. Joseph oil” in their homes because of their connection to Québec.

3rd segment: Scot asked Ryan how he came to work as director of the Center for Medical Ethics of Louisiana Right to Life. He said that when he first returned to Louisiana, he worked as director of a healthcare facility and he saw a lot of the strengths and challenges of modern healthcare, including the problems related to resources. He also became a member of an ethics board of a local hospital. Then he was approached by Louisiana Right to Life. The group has been in existence since 1970 and works for the dignity of life from conception to natural death. A few years ago they asked him to come on right about the time that the Affordable Care Act was being debated. Also he was asked to be proactive on issues like assisted suicide. He’s now worked with them full-time for about a year. The primary issues he addresses are euthanasia, assisted suicide, withdrawal of necessary or unnecessary treatment. He said there’s a lot of pressure to do less today, even ordinary care, not extraordinary.

Another issue is medical discrimination, not just race, but also disabilities, whether physical or mental. One aspect is that 90% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in utero. It’s such a tragic loss, especially when anyone who knows someone with Down will say that they are often the most loving people.

Another area is healthcare reform, including rationing of healthcare. He noted that the Affordable Care Act claims not to ration healthcare, but it does create an independent payment advisory board of 15 people appointed by the president whose goal is to create quality and efficiency standards. Their goal is to push down some medical costs through best practices that are handed down in the form of recommendations every two years to the Health Secretary. The secretary will send those standards to any health provider using any government-funded healthcare. Congress doesn’t have to approve these. Those standards become rules because the providers don’t want to lose reimbursement and so they will decrease the amount of care.

The fifth area is helping Catholics understand end-of-life decision-making. They provide documents approved by the Secretary of State in Louisiana to help people make provisions for their end of life.

Scot went back to the first issue. He said physician-assisted suicide is coming up more and more after being dormant for so long in just Oregon and Washington, DC. Ryan said proponents of assisted suicide are concerned about the growing numbers of elderly. They call it the Silver Tsunami of elderly with too many seeking care from a system being paid for by too few. Ryan noted that the reality is that we’re seeing the results of declining birth rates. Also we’re living in a time in which fewer people are living a faith which helps us to deal with pain and suffering and getting to the root.

Scot said proponents talk about choice, control, and dignity as if taking 100 pills in a liquid after taking a numbing agent because of its bitterness. Many people think they should have a choice, not understanding that it releases other pressures later on that might force this “choice” on you later on. It’s a false autonomy. As for control, there are limited safeguards for those can’t speak up for themselves.

Ryan said it’s making a choice based on inaccurate information. It’s almost to accurately diagnose how long someone is actually going to live, but the law says you can make the choice if diagnosed to live 6 months or less. Scot said doctors have told him that it’s an arbitrary number and it’s a lot of time, whether to set things right or to have new treatments. It’s also just a guess at a time.

Scot said that someone who receives a terminal diagnosis of any length, the person will tend toward becoming depressed. Shouldn’t there be a safeguard to ensure that it’s not just the depression pushing them to suicide. Ryan noted that in Oregon only two percent of those requesting suicide pills accepted the recommendation of a doctor to seek mental health counseling. Of those that did, many were not even terminally ill, but just depressed.

Scot said the proposed law would allow a husband to request the suicide pills without informing his wife. He said men are more likely to commit suicide than women. He could be thinking he’s preventing her from suffering when she’s made a commitment to walk with him at every moment to the end. We all know that it’s never just one individual affected by the decision to commit suicide.

Ryan noted that the death certificate will list only the underlying disease, not suicide. This is the falsification of a legal document. We don’t need legalized assisted suicide to provide for the needs of the dying. There are so many amazing virtuous moments at the end of life as well as so many options for palliative care. Fr. Matt asked Ryan to expand on palliative care.

Ryan said when he’s talked with a patient or family member who guides them through the process of thinking what the person needs when dying. If they’re Christian, he walks them through Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and to make known his will for his loved ones and to place his life in the hands of the Father. He said it’s so essential for all of us to have those opportunities for goodbye. Palliative care is extremely successful in managing pain, but it’s also a great opportunity for families to come together and it’s important for generations.

4th segment: This week’s benefactor card raffle winner is Marilyn Lalmond from Merrimack, NH

She wins Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.

If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.

5th segment: Scot said each state battles to stop physician-assisted suicide in different ways. For people on all sides of many issues and political views agree that the flaws in this initiative are awful. Why would we put such an important issue on a ballot where people are informed by 30-second commercials, instead of the usual way in the Legislature where there are many open committee hearings and people from all sides are heard. Ballot initiatives are a crazy way to decide a life and death issue.

Ryan said Louisiana doesn’t have the ballot initiative process but he has worked on this issue with committees in the state legislature and that was definitely the preferable means of dealing with it.

Scot said he assumes Ryan is here from Louisiana because they understand how we vote in Massachusetts will affect the rest of the country. Ryan said that in the beginning of June he was in Minneapolis to discuss the issue with people from around the US and Canada and the people at the meeting were very concerned about this issue. The country would see that this issue breaks out of the Northwest, which as a reputation for being secular and liberal, into an area with a very large Catholic population, which could help it to spread. Scot said he’s heard Massachusetts is the most valuable state because we’re seen around the world as having the best medical care and if Massachusetts chooses this, then why shouldn’t everyone choose it?

Ryan said the question is what we are communicating to people who are ill and scared? This option is so far below their dignity.

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